Our theme this week is set in the time the first disciples were expecting God to do something big — but what?
Jesus had prepared them. All that He said would happen to Him — trial, death and also miraculous resurrection — came to pass, just the way He had said.
And in His longest recorded prayer, which we will hear in a minute, He hinted that their unity would be tested, even as He was invoking God’s protection over them. They were His precious, valued apprentices! And glory was coming to the Lord because of them.
We have ‘final instructions’ scenes with the resurrected but not-yet-ascended Jesus in each of the four Gospels. These were significant encounters. They were handover times, just before Pentecost, when the apprentices were told to step up to considerable new responsibilities.
Pentecost changed everything for them. It was a dive in at the deep end, but it was also discovering they could swim… in a manner of speaking.
But before that, Jesus had to prepare them for their new responsibility — to
continue and greatly expand His mission to the wider world. There were four facets of this preparation:
- They needed an initial impartation of the Holy Spirit, to help them be more receptive to the main outpouring that would come.
- Peter, who had wobbled precariously in His commitment at Jesus’ trial, needed some extra grace. John‘s gospel relates how Jesus restored him and enabled him to step up as the disciples’ natural leader.
- They needed to grasp the breadth of God‘s mission. Both Mark’s and Matthew’s gospels end with words of clear commission, to go into the non-Jewish world with the Good News of salvation in Jesus, and to enlist further apprentices, who would in turn recruit others — the way to achieve rapid expansion.
- They had to learn to look to God‘s enabling, not their own efforts. We get that from Luke’s gospel which runs seamlessly into his second book, with Jesus telling them to wait prayerfully, for the spiritual empowering that was coming. Then it gives a full account of Pentecost, before detailing the exploits of the those sent out in the power of the Spirit.
Our story this week focuses on that in-between time, when the disciples knew that God was about to do something BIG… but were still meeting together and praying to be ready for God to come.
We start with an excerpt from Psalm 68, which shows the darker area of the picture, a reminder of the spiritual battle we are all engaged in. The way we fight it is by praise for His might and majesty, seeking God‘s close presence in our relationship wirh Him, which strengthens us:
May God arise, may His enemies be scattered; may His foes flee before Him.
May You blow them away like smoke… but may the righteous be glad and rejoice before God; may they be happy and joyful.
Sing to God, sing in praise of His name, extol Him who rides on the clouds; rejoice before Him — His name is the LORD.
Sing to God, you kingdoms of the earth, sing praise to the Lord, to Him who rides across the… ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice. Proclaim the power of God, whose majesty is over Israel… You, God, are awesome in Your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to His people.
Praise be to God!From Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35
From a heavenly perspective of God’s majesty and glory, the story moves to a new scene on earth. Here we join Jesus praying, not only for Himself, and all that He will face, but for His disciples and the commission He was giving them. He knew the spiritual attack and confusion that they would face.
Let’s not forget that God is the one who “rides… across the ancient heavens, who thunders with mighty voice. “
But there is another voice that speaks out of that spiritual realm. It is a quite different tone, a sneering, manipulative voice that attempts to sow doubt to undermine our faith and substitute lies for the truth God is showing us. The tactic of the Garden of Eden is the ruse we learn to recognise as it is being played out to distract us.
That’s why Jesus prays “Holy Father, protect them…” as we hear now from John 17:
After Jesus said this, He looked toward heaven and prayed: “Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that Your Son may glorify You.John 17:1-11
“For You granted Him authority over all people that He might give eternal life to all those You have given Him.
“Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
“I have brought You glory on earth by finishing the work You gave Me to do.
“And now, Father, glorify Me in Your presence with the glory I had with You before the world began.
“I have revealed You to those whom You gave Me out of the world. They were Yours; You gave them to Me and they have obeyed Your word.
“Now they know that everything You have given Me comes from You.
“For I gave them the words You gave Me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent Me.
“I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given Me, for they are Yours.
“All I have is Yours, and all You have is Mine. And glory has come to Me through them.
“I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name, the name You gave Me, so that they may be one as We are one.”
This prayer makes it clear that the new life we lead is one in which Jesus is central. That is not just because He is praying this prayer. It is because He is talking to the Father, thanking Him for His delegated authority to give eternal life — a life that comes through knowing Him.
In reality it really is all about Jesus and not about other things that we make important!
In this prayer there are five phrases which speak of what the Father has given Jesus, and therefore Jesus has given to the disciples – and by extension to us.
These include eternal life; identity as those who belong to God; a new spiritual perspective; sound teaching, and the protection of the name of God Almighty.
He ends by praying protection over them by the power of God’s name so that the disciples might continue in spiritual unity together, in the way that Father, Son and Holy Spirit exist in holy unity as Persons of the godhead.
This, He knows, will be tested and the enemy will probe for any weakness he can find. That why we need to learning the effectiveness of prayerful unity as the key to God’s protective power.
The commission that Jesus was giving them, to take the good news into all the world, was just not humanly possible. Both Jewish culture and the Roman Empire were hostile to any claim of lordship or salvation.
However, Jesus goes on to tell the the disciples how they will be empowered: not just to continue His mission, but to expand it in a way unimaginable for them.
We learn with them, in this final commissioning story which ends Luke’s gospel but is actually found at the beginning of Acts.
Then they gathered around Him and asked Him, “Lord, are You at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”Acts 1:6-14
He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by His own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
After He said this, He was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid Him from their sight.
They were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.”
Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city.
When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James.
They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.
They are about to witness the biggest and most transforming spiritual event they will ever have known.
And Jesus has told them something about the form this will take. They know they need to be spiritually prepared. They know they need to remain close to the Lord. They know they need to be in the right place with Him.
And so, as we hear these words, we are learning, with them, a profound lesson. For them, this was exercising a spiritual principle, which they never forgot.
We heard how “they all joined together, constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.“
They had been used to worship and prayer being exclusive – for Jewish men, and for men of a certain standing. Now they are practising, very radical for its time, is INCLUSIVE with women playing their part, and with some who had not previously been numbered with the disciples.
Why is this such a vital lesson?
I suggest three reasons:
- Firstly, it teaches us that nothing of significance happens until we seek God, get a sense of what He is doing, and pray it in..
- Secondly, it teaches us that, although personal prayer is our starting point, the real power comes through praying in agreement with others. Strategic prayer is a group activity.
- And the third lesson which comes strongly out of what we will read now in 1 Peter 4, is that we need to know our enemy. We must be aware of having an active and predatory enemy who will consume, kill or spoil, whatever we leave unguarded. To know is to know how to overcome.
Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11
If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.
Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.
Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.
And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To Him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.
We are learning about prayer for unity as a key to God’s protective power. And this reading tells us why we need that protective power, and why it’s so important to call it down in prayerful dependence.
Let’s hear those words again:
“Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come… to test you…
Your enemy growls, like a roaring lion… Resist… standing firm in the faith…
The God of all grace will make you strong… and steadfast — to Him be the glory…”
We have heard Jesus, praying for the disciples, calling down God’s protection over them, that they might stand together in faith with God’s encouragement.
We have seen how the disciples responded to Jesus appearing and telling them to wait until they receive power, to be His witnesses on an expanding mission field that will take them far from Jerusalem.
- Notice what preceded this greatest move of God. It was a reliance attitude — the disciples “all joined constantly in prayer” with an open invitation to all who would come and pray — and call it down.
- God planned this long ago. Faithful praying men and women called it down.
- Jesus said that they should wait in the city. When Jesus says ‘wait’, He means ‘pray’. And they got the hint — they got to work to call it down.
God’s mission remains unchanged. Jesus’ victory stands as the eternal game-changer. But most people still do not know that!
The kingdom of God doesn’t just come — most people want their independence, not the rule and reign of an unseen God. And salvation doesn’t just come. We enter into it by choice, by believing who Jesus is and what he has done for us and receiving it.
This all works by partnership. The mission and ministry of Jesus could not continue without the twelve, and the 120 and then the three thousand… and more.
As we hear Jesus’ parting words again, we hear Him telling us to go into all the world, to make disciples of all kinds of people and above all, to be in prayer unity with others who are hearing this call.
And as churches go through splits, and give energy to handling conflicts, lose attendance and get distracted by all sorts of things the devil uses to take our focus off Jesus and what He is saying, it’s time we learned the lesson of practising prayerful unity which is how we call down God’s protective power as well as His sure leading.
Lord God Almighty, I humble myself before You and Your might, majesty, dominion and power.
When things get difficult, I often start by pretending that I can handle them.
But when I step aside and trust You, I see Your power come through, and the enemy silenced.
Be filling me with Your Holy Spirit, that I may be growing in You, and can be a channel of Your love and truth to others.
In Jesus name, Amen.
May you be secure in knowing eternal life through Christ Jesus!
from John 17:2-3
The Living Word has four facets: a Bible study based on the Bible readings followed by churches and chapels that use the shared scheme and ideal for home group discussion as well as individuals; a written article telling the story that emerges from the readings, a video and a podcast. It’s a three-year cycle and it’s searchable on https://thelivingword.uk
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The written posts are especially readable on https://medium.com/the-living-word
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This week’s video links are:
YouTube wide: https://youtu.be/JbL1sighwMk
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Facebook Tall: https://www.facebook.com/750131728/videos/3591602321128735/